Woman in World History Essay

Download this Essay in word format (.doc)

Note: Sample below may appear distorted but all corresponding word document files contain proper formatting

Excerpt from Essay:

Women or Women in Important Historical Moments?

A very fine line separates historical narrative from biographical nonfiction. In the latter, the subject is of prime importance and exploration of the way that the subject feels about historical events is the primary reason for such a text. As to the former, the subject is often a vehicle to exploring the larger conditions surrounding her. Deciphering which tactic is in play in any given text may be a difficult endeavor, only further complicated when the protagonist of an historical narrative is female. In this case, one may be given the impression that the uniqueness, individuality and mere availability of her story may be enough to suggest that the history within is driven by her actions. However, as we consider texts focusing on the lives of Elizabeth Marsh, Madame Caillaux and Eugenia Ginzberg, it becomes clear that their respective biographers were in fact more devoted to delineating history than telling individual life stories. Through the lens of the primary female character in each of these texts, the reader comes to understand more about the moment in history than about the woman beholding it.

As to the question of whether these women are the primary subject of their respective titles, as opposed to central characters in historical narratives, the Colley (2007) text is particularly revealing. This is because Colley makes no attempt to manufacture a narrative elevating the title character. In Elizabeth Marsh, we are not necessarily presented with an 18th century woman whose life helped to propel history forward. In fact, Colley concedes at multiple points throughout her text that the Marsh narrative is often pieced together, that some deductions have been made using genealogy and that not all reported information is confirmed as fully accurate.

None of this damages the value of the text however, because as its prime cause for existence, the text pursues something closer to an historical sketch of a time and place. That the story of Marsh is instructive in helping us to understand this time and place on a more human level is critical to the value of the text. Still, it is difficult to deny that Marsh is essentially a vehicle for exploring this period of history and, furthermore, that the choice of Marsh as a human subject helps to unpack some of our perceptions regarding the life of a woman in the 18th century.

In particular, that Marsh chose to travel and log her experiences immediately contrasts our impression of the quintessential woman of her time. Rather than present us with a female constrained by her moment in history, Colley offers a world history channeled through the subject's experiences. As Marsh travels, the text gives us glimpses of the political, economic and cultural conditions that very much defined the era. This would include the intersection between the subject's life and such catalyzing events as the start of the American revolution. Indeed, the period of British imperialism comes to play a substantial part in Marsh's experiences as she works her way through contexts such as India and Morocco, the latter of which held her captive for a period of three months.

Her capture, in fact, serves as an important segment of the book because it does demonstrate the distinction in her experiences as a woman while simultaneously making the reader aware of the larger forces at play in the world constructed by the author. Namely, we find Marsh under pressure by a young sultan to join his harem of sex subjects. Concurrent to this personal struggle, the Moroccans insist on holding Marsh hostage, demanding that her native Britain agree to establish a proper consul in Marrakesh. Perhaps as much as any other section of the Colley text, this ordeal demonstrates that Marsh is at the mercy of forces far greater than her own volition.

Simultaneously, it identifies some of the qualities that set Marsh apart from her female contemporaries, making her life perfectly remarkable as a vehicle for an historical narrative. According to the Colley text, "at the time of her Moroccan ordeal -- for all her recent gloss of ladylike accomplishments -- she was still firmly artisan in background, and used to the compromises of shipboard life. She may thus not fully have appreciated that her conduct had gone well beyond what conventional middle-class males…would have seen as acceptable in a young unmarried woman." (Colley, p. 72)

To this point, the fact that Marsh is a character in history rather than a shaper of history should not be seen to discredit the individuality or importance of her story. Nor does it blunt the remarkable accomplishments that distinguished her in her time and place among others of her gender. However, it does help us to identify the primary purpose of the text, which is to provide a window into a moment in history. That Marsh's life was remarkable and varied enough to allow such a window is her distinguishing feature in history. This is less a story about an individual woman as it is a story about a point in history in which an individual woman did remarkable things. These remarkable things are cast against the backdrop of a changing world.

The matter of Henriette Caillaux is somewhat more complex than that of Elizabeth Marsh. This is demonstrated well in the text by Berenson (1993), which recalls a rather memorable chapter in French history. Indeed, the Caillaux story is a remarkable passage of political intrigue and drama which unfolding in front of the French public in the early 20th century. Recounting the events leading to Caillaux's premeditated murder of a journalist responsible for publicly discrediting her husband and France's Prime Minister. Rather than see her husband's life or reputation lost in a duel with the journalist, Caillaux chose to sacrifice herself by ambushing the journalist in his office with a pistol.

The murder became a highly celebrated case and, because the actions around which the Berenson text revolve seem to have been initiated by the female protagonist, it is tempting to think of this as a book about a woman in history. But a closer consideration instead reveals that even in light of her dramatic actions, Caillaux is a character who is largely moved by history rather than vice versa. In fact, what is so distinct about this chapter in history is that even in her most dramatic and defining behavior, Caillaux presents herself as having largely been out of her right mind. In other words, even in the act of murder, the character feels that she is not fully in control of her actions. She finds herself being moved by events, external forces and her own emotions.

According to the Berenson account of her trial, "despite all her efforts, she lost control. Unconsciousness triumphed over consciousness, impulse over will. 'The idea of premeditation is absurd,' declared Les Hommes du jour. 'Psychologically, what we have is a poor insane person incapable of controlling herself.'" (Berenson, p. 42) This portrayal would be reinforced by Caillaux's own recollection of events. Here, she presents herself as having been moved by an uncontrollable force, even to the extent that the victim's physical response helped contribute to his death as much as any other force. According to the account, "even with her pistol pointed at Calmette, Henriete Caillaux claimed to have made one final effort to prevent herself from actually harming him, a last desparate attempt to deflect her unconscious impulses from their most potentially grieveous result. 'At the moment when I fired the first shot I experiences an almost imperceptible flash of consciousness and that was to shoot down toward the ground.'" (Berenson, p. 42)

However, when Calmette instinctually dives to the ground, he places himself directly in the path of her bullet. This is a telling passage in the text because it comports with the idea that Caillaux is moved by history rather than functioning to move it herself. In fact, it is her gender that allows this impression to carry forward to its utmost. As a woman, Caillaux is actually acquitted of her crimes based on the logic that the female gender cannot be expected to control its emotions and passions with the same fortitude as can men. Whether this was accurate or not, the legal defense was successful and would ultimately come to define the Berenson text. This shows Caillaux to be the lead character is a story that provides a snapshot at a heady moment in French political history as well as some insight into the way that women were perceived in this time and place.

By sharp contrast to the Caillaux story, which finds a wealthy woman evading justice because of her gender, the story of and by Eugenia Ginzburg is far more inspirational. Hers is the narrative of a woman imprisoned in a Soviet gulag under the dictatorial rule of Joseph Stalin. Right from the outset, this text is easy to distinguish as a chapter of human history in which a woman…[continue]

Cite This Essay:

"Woman In World History" (2013, April 11) Retrieved December 4, 2016, from http://www.paperdue.com/essay/woman-in-world-history-89322

"Woman In World History" 11 April 2013. Web.4 December. 2016. <http://www.paperdue.com/essay/woman-in-world-history-89322>

"Woman In World History", 11 April 2013, Accessed.4 December. 2016, http://www.paperdue.com/essay/woman-in-world-history-89322

Other Documents Pertaining To This Topic

  • Women in American History in

    In colonial America, formal education for girls historically has been secondary to that for boys. In colonial America girls learned to read and write at dame schools. They could attend the master's schools for boys when there was room, usually during the summer when most of the boys were working. (Women's International Center) During the latter half of the Republic Era, rapid economic growth presented new opportunities for northern white women.

  • Women Throughout Chinese History Have Experienced the

    Women throughout Chinese history have experienced the oppression their tradition and culture exert as well as the power only members of their sex can attain in their chosen domains. Although readers have been exposed to historical anecdotes relating foot binding and Man's superiority to women, there are also many stories relating their freedom and tenacity, whether they are wives, concubines, courtesans or prostitutes. The history of Chinese women is not

  • Women in American History the Contribution Woman

    Women in American History The contribution woman have made to the United States over the years is profoundly important, and probably not recognized to the degree that it should be recognized. This paper reviews and critiques the contributions of women from five periods in history: from 1865 to 1876; from 1877 to 1920; from 1921 to 1945; from 1946 to 1976; and from 1976 to the present day. Women in America --

  • Role of Women in World War One

    Role effect women World War One. Women during the First World War This paper discuses in regard to women who were required to abandon their traditional role as housekeepers during the First World War. These individuals were virtually forced to employ all of their efforts in order to provide for their families, for soldiers on the front, and for their countries as a whole. Even with this, it is only safe to

  • Role of Women Since World

    Note again that Gandhi, O'Connor and Thatcher all represented pre-Baby Boom women who had worked their way to the top after decades. The period of the 1990's represents a greater participation of women in the workforce, including senior management positions. It also represents a significant increase in women's participation in politics. The questions of work-life balance continue with women; note that Nancy Pelosi managed a full-time career and raised five

  • Duiker and Speilvogel s Book World History Since

    Duiker and Speilvogel's book, World History Since 1865, Volume II examines the emergence of imperialism promoted by Europeans and the resulting affects of their determination to expand, far surpassing imperial Rome. Great Britain, France, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal and even Russia intruded forcefully into Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the South Pacific and finally sought out the North and South Poles. Today, there is common agreement that European

  • Philippine Women Fashion Clothing History the

    The idea of dressing in civilized and well clothed are well deserving of freedom because t this group that is highly valued despite the fact that the Malay peasants who struggled for the independence have been devalued in the official history of nation -- building and their mark and contribution has been ignored. 'This shown that apart from the influences from the other cultures social classes have been instrumental in

Read Full Essay
Copyright 2016 . All Rights Reserved